By Barb Arland-Fye
Meriam Ibrahim’s story brought last Sunday’s Gospel reading to life for me. Meriam possesses a pearl of great price — her Catholic faith — and risked her life for it.
The 27-year-old Sudanese mother had been sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Catholic faith. Pregnant with her second child, she was imprisoned and gave birth on a prison floor to daughter Maya two months ago.
International pressure finally led to her release from prison and just last week Meriam had an audience with Pope Francis, who thanked her for her steadfast witness to Christ. You can read more about her visit with the Holy Father on Page 7 in this week’s Catholic Messenger.
As I read about her visit with Pope Francis, I tried to imagine myself in her shoes — and couldn’t. She lived in a country that views conversion from Islam to Christianity as a crime punishable by death. But Meriam wasn’t a Muslim. She had been raised in the Christian faith by her mother. Her Sudanese homeland claimed her as a Muslim, however, because her father — who she says abandoned the family — was a Muslim.
A “Google” search of Meriam’s name led to numerous articles about the ordeal she endured for her faith, but more importantly, provided a glimpse of a profoundly deep love of God:
“I trusted God from the first instant. I knew that he would not abandon me,” she is quoted as saying after being released from prison (www.dailymail.co.uk).
“I have always wanted and only wanted my faith. The love of my husband is a gift from God” (Huffington Post).
“When I was asked to renounce my Christian faith, I knew what I was risking. But I did not want to renounce it” (La Republica).
Other tidbits of interest: Meriam, a doctor by training, is married to Daniel Wani, a Catholic and U.S. citizen from Sudan who reportedly lost his job as a chemist because of what she described as her “event.” Her father is said to have accused her of adultery because she married outside the Muslim faith.
Meriam, Daniel and their two young children (20-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya) got to meet Pope Francis on July 24. Meriam had dreamed of meeting the pope someday and thanked him for his prayers, saying that prayers sustained her. What a remarkable witness to the Christian faith, from a woman who’s the same age as my older son.
Her story brings to mind several others of courageous women I know who are steadfast in their faith despite adversity. They, too, possess a pearl of great price, and won’t give it up for the world. These three women inspire me as they confront life-threatening illness with deeply rooted trust in God. They have taken up their crosses to follow Christ, and do so without bitterness or outward complaint.
The stories of these women — Meriam and my three friends — call on me to consider what it means as a Christian to possess a pearl of great price. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matt.13:45-47).